This guy left it all on the field before the Bucs and Falcons even arrived

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TAMPA — Tom Brady and Matt Ryan emerged from their respective tunnels Sunday with no hope of achieving the weekend’s top conversion rate at Raymond James Stadium.

That distinction belonged to Wayne Ward, the venue’s 52-year-old turf and grounds manager. Under severe meteorological duress, Ward and his staff still converted the field — replacing USF’s painted logos with Tampa Bay’s — with a few hours to spare.

“I finished up at 11:30 this morning,” Ward said early Sunday afternoon.

Roughly seven hours earlier, Ward and his bleary-eyed crew watched hopelessly as a pre-dawn shower washed away all the craftsmanship they had begun immediately after the Bulls’ 38-17 triumph against Florida A&M concluded. To that point, they had cleaned the field, smoothed it over, laid down the stencils for all logos (end zone and midfield) and painted them.

“We had just finished up our last little bit,” Ward said.

“We were walking off the field, rolling up the strings and I had sent the guys to at least get off their feet for a couple of hours until we were going to set the field. And all the sudden, it started sprinkling, and the sprinkling got a lot harder, and it rained good for about 10 or 15 minutes.”

A quarter-inch of rain had fallen by the time things subsided, Ward said. After waiting roughly an hour, he and his staff went to work — again. This time, the sun helped expedite the drying process.

“And then I still had to fight the cheerleaders on if they could practice at 12:30,” Ward said with a laugh.

While sleep was not on Ward’s schedule Sunday, extensive rest will arrive in due time. He retires after 30 years in April.

“There was a point in time where we would’ve changed the grass overnight, and then painted it,” he said. “Weather and rain right around daybreak on game day is always a pain.”

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